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The Lucky Ones

One of the biggest hits of 1946 was William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, a wrenching drama about a trio of World War II veterans trying to adjust to civilian life. Stories of returning Iraq war vets haven’t gotten quite as warm a welcome: Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss, released earlier this year, was a resounding flop, and Irwin Winkler’s Home of the Brave (2006) never even made it to Chicago. Whether Neil Burger’s The Lucky Ones will prove the exception to the rule is anyone’s guess, but as a story it’s more convincing and substantial than either of those features. Like them, it echoes the Wyler film with its story of three soldiers—an older family man (Tim Robbins), a volatile, wounded sergeant (Michael Pena), and a dumb but genial private (Rachel McAdams)—arriving stateside without quite returning home. But it’s structured as a comic picaresque, with the trio driving from New York to Saint Louis to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, which allows Burger (The Illusionist) to seriously examine the emotional isolation of returning vets without sinking into a bog of despair. aOpens September 26. —J.R. Jones